By Stacy B. C. Wood, Jr.

Is the 1921 Cole's Hill sarcophagus the final resting place of Ann (Agnes?) Tilley and her husband, Pilgrim Edward Tilley?In his history, Of Plymouth Plantation, William Bradford included lists of the 1620 Mayflower passengers. The lists were written some thirty years after the Mayflower’s arrival. Following the list of the passengers is a list recounting what had happened to them. This list is often referred to as the “decreasings” (i.e. deaths/departures) and “increasings” (i.e. births) and Bradford adds they also give “such changes as that passed over them and theirs in this thirty years.” He states that among the passengers were “Edward Tilley and Ann his wife, and two children that were his cousins, Henry Sampson and Humility Cooper.” In the second list he writes that Edward Tilley “and his wife both died soon after their arrival, and the girl Humility, their cousin, was sent for into England and died there. But the youth Henry Sampson is still living and is married and hath seven children.” Note that no “increasings” (i.e. children) are noted for Edward and his wife: none have ever been identified.

Bradford notes that Edward Tilley was also accompanied on the voyage by his brother John Tilley “and his wife, and Elizabeth their daughter” and “John Tilley and his wife both died a little after they came ashore. And their daughter Elizabeth married with John Howland and hath issue as is before noted” (under the entry for John Carver with whom John Howland came as a servant). Note that John Tilley’s wife is not named.

Although neither John Tilley nor Edward Tilley are mentioned in Bradford’s history text, they do appear in the journal of the Pilgrims’ first year that was published in London in 1622 and which is commonly known as Mourt’s Relation. Scholars assume that the journal was written by Edward Winslow and William Bradford. The journal states that on Saturday, November 11, 1620 (N.S.) the first expedition ashore took place by a party of fifteen or sixteen men. They are not named. On Wednesday, November 15th, Capt. Myles Standish led another party of sixteen armed men ashore. Only three are named besides Standish: William Bradford, Stephen Hopkins, and Edward Tilley, who were along for “counsel and advice.” The next naming of individuals was on Wednesday, December 6th, when the party of ten included both John and Edward Tilley as well as Standish, Carver, Bradford, Howland, and “three of London, Richard Warren, Stephen Hopkins, and Edward Doty.” The weather that day was “very hard and cold” and “two were very sick, and Edward Tilley had like to have sounded [i.e. swooned] with cold.” With the exception of the occasional mention of Standish, Carver or a crew member and the stillbirth of an Isaac Allerton son, there is no further mention of Pilgrims by name until January 8, 1621 (N.S.) when the youth Francis Billington discovered the large pond that was given his name: Billington Sea. On January 12th John Goodman and Peter Brown became lost and an unknown “Master Leaver” (perhaps Carver) went with others to look for them. Later Goodman is mentioned two more times. On February 16th Francis Cooke is mentioned and Stephen Hopkins is mentioned twice on the 17th concerning the unexpected visit of Samoset, who is lodged with Hopkins for the night. Isaac Allerton is mentioned again on February 23rd. On March 21st a “Williamson” (believed to be Pilgrim Thomas Williams or perhaps William Brewster) is mentioned in the account of the treaty with the Indians.

Getting back to the naming of the Tilley brothers in the “increasings/decreasings,” once again note that John Tilley’s wife is not named. The fact that Edward’s wife “Ann” is named has been responsible for the following conundrum:

In his extensive research over the past few years, Robert Leigh Ward has researched the parish records of both Henlow and Campton in Bedfordshire, England for information about the Cooper, Samson/Sampson, and Tilley families, and he has published his results in The Genealogist (TG) and The American Genealogist (TAG). In TAG 52 (1976) he wrote of the “English Ancestry of Seven Mayflower Passengers: Tilley, Sampson and Cooper.” He located the baptisms of the Tilley brothers in the Henlow Parish register and Bishop’s Transcripts: John on 19 Dec 1574 and Edward (called Edmond) on 27 May 1588. They were two of Robert Tilley’s eight children. John’s marriage to Joan Rogers took place on 20 September 1596 and Edward’s to Agnes Cooper on 20 June 1614. Note that Edward’s wife’s given name was recorded as “Agnes,” not “Ann.” In the Cooper section of the article, we find the marriage on 20 June 1614 to Agnes Cooper, a daughter of Edmond Cooper and Mary Wyne, who was baptized on 7 November 1585. Agnes Cooper had a younger sister Martha, baptized 15 March 1578 (N.S.) who married James Sampson on 20 May 1599. Then going to the “Sampson and Other” section we find Henry Sampson baptized in Henlow on 15 January 1604 (N.S.). Note that Edward Tilley’s wife in the parish Records is always identified as “Agnes,” never “Ann.” Why then does Gov. Bradford list Edward Tilley’s wife as “Ann”?

Of course Bradford didn’t start his monumental history Of Plymouth Plantation until 1630, finishing the first ten chapters covering the period up through the Nov. 1620 explorations for a settlement site. Edward Tilley and his wife were ten years dead by 1630. He says that he continued it “in pieces” until 1646 and then added a few items as late as 1650 when he included what had happened to the passengers in the past 30 years. Had he forgotten the name of Edward’s wife?

Premier Pilgrim scholar Jeremy D. Bangs, PhD, has examined the Leiden, Holland, records, and found an entry proving that Edward Tilley was one of the Leiden Pilgrims. It is Edward Tilley’s agreement to teach serge weaving to a Robert Hagges, an apprentice, in Leiden circa 1616. Although Dr. Bangs has not found mention of Edward’s wife, it is most probable that she was there with him. One might expect Bradford to have known her name, but then there were over 200 fellow Separatists there at that time. Perhaps Bradford merely mistakenly records her as “Ann” in his Mayflower passenger list; perhaps Ann was a middle name although it is not shown as such in the parish records; perhaps it was a simple mental lapse.

Henry Samson, however, who lived until early 1685, should have remembered the given name of his aunt who brought him over when he was almost 17, but perhaps Bradford didn’t share his writings with the Colony members. Of course there were no Edward Tilley children to refresh Bradford’s memory. Perhaps Elizabeth Tilley, wife of John Howland, may not have remembered as she was only 13 when her aunt died and Elizabeth from then on had no Tilleys with whom to discuss family history. As a matter of possible interest, Bradford does not name John Tilley’s wife Joan (Hurst)(Rogers) Tilley in either list.

All those writing about the Pilgrims over the years (e.g. Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Caleb Johnson, Nathaniel Philbrick) have called Edward Tilley’s wife “Ann,” probably based on Bradford’s passenger list. Even the 1921 Sarcophagus on Cole’s Hill, in which her remains possibly lie, carries her name as “Ann.” Two writers who have noted the double given name are Ward and Robert Charles Anderson. Ward in his TG Volume 6 article, “The Baronial Ancestry of Henry Sampson, Humility Cooper and Ann (Cooper) Tilley,” states that “Henry Sampson was the son of James and Martha (Cooper) Sampson of Henlow, and the nephew of Ann (or Agnes) (Cooper) Tilley.” Ward, however, did not choose to comment on this choice of given names. Anderson, in his 2004 The Pilgrim Migration, makes no bones about the given name of Edward Tilley’s wife: “Marriage: Henlow 20 June 1614 Agnes Cooper.” He, too, did not choose to hazard a guess as to why Bradford calls her “Ann.”

In closing, it would seem likely that Bradford for one reason or another merely miswrote Edward’s wife’s name as “Ann.” Because research has failed to turn up any children for the union of Edward and Agnes who didn’t even survive the first winter, one might say “Who cares?” My answer is that they chose to place their lives on the line by taking the 1620 “little ice age” winter voyage; Edward became one of the trusted early explorers for his “counsel and advice” and one can wonder what role he might have played in the Colony had he survived. In addition Edward and Agnes brought with them their teenage nephew Henry Samson who eventually founded a family of his own of which there are descendants living today. Edward and Agnes deserve to have their story told correctly. They were most likely buried in secret on Cole’s Hill. Their bones probably washed out or were dug up with those of others that were then gathered up and placed in a receptacle in the top of the 1883 Hammett Billings first Plymouth Rock canopy, and then re-interred in the 1921 Sarcophagus. All of the Pilgrims deserve to have their stories told and their names recorded.